From Dalston to Coal Drops Yard with a pitstop at Brown's East; Bodega Rita's is the latest incarnation of Gabe Pryce and Missy Flynn's edible empire
Words by Marina Tweed.
Photography by Ollie Grove.
Back in 2012, in an east-end nightclub, a group of friends launched Rita’s - a new, late-night restaurant serving up a menu of modern American comfort food - fried chicken rolls, patty melts, served with sides of chilli mac and cheese and crushed potatoes and margarita slushies.
Founders Missy Flynn and Gabriel Pryce remember how their long-time friend, Deano – an investor at Birthday’s nightclub in Dalston – asked them to come up with a restaurant concept to occupy the ground floor of the club. East London was changing and Dalston, a destination for drinking and dancing, was ready to embrace a younger generation who yes, loved going out, but also wanted to eat great food.
Before long, Rita’s had tempted restaurant critics such as Jay Rayner and Fay Maschler to catch the bus up the Kingsland Road to see for themselves what Rita’s was all about. They gave it top reviews.
The one-month pop up soon turned in to a long-term residency and after ten months the team moved Rita’s to a permanent site on Hackney’s Mare Street. There, Rita’s hailed a three-year success attracting a dedicated local following as well as becoming a destination for those living further afield.
It was in 2017 that Rita’s closed its doors, but the brand has remained very much open for business since. Missy and Gabriel, now a couple, travelled to Mexico together, and took some time to consider what would be next for them and for the brand. Rita’s closing was a difficult and emotional time for them both, but it also gave them the chance reflect, to learn from their mistakes, and to push themselves further. Which is what they did.
"We both have an affinity for the New York bodega, we both spent a lot of time in New York; it's about community, your local neighbourhood."
Marina Tweed: So what is next for both and for Rita’s?
Missy Flynn: We ask each other all the time, what do we want to do? What do we want from life? And for me it changes all the time because I’m really erratic. Do we want Rita’s to be a thing? or is it too late? Did we miss that opportunity? When we were approached about opening up Rita’s at Coal Drop’s Yard – we both realised we were really ready to bring Rita’s back.
We had just launched Bodega at Brown’s East in Shoreditch. A concept which I found really interesting because of the way that food retails now- how it mimics fashion retail in the way that people shop. There’s a definite connection there, so I pitched this concept of a Rita’s Bodega to Brown’s and we started selling chilli’s and imported products and very quickly it became apparent that people do shop for food in that same way.
Gabriel Pryce: We made a lot of products as well, spices, spice blends, and sauces.
[MF] We were in a room full of Balenciaga and people were talking to me about chilli. It makes you realise how global food is - how some people would take a trip to Brown’s to get a Mexican soda and some people would make the trip to Brown’s to get a Gucci handbag. And I think it was interesting to the guys at Brown’s too, to see people going there to buy specific ingredients. I think that really highlights the value of the products.
[GP] The way we’re talking about it makes it sound exclusive - it is - but only in the sense that it’s special, and you can only get it there. But it’s not expensive, it’s humble, it just happens to be things that we care about that are from the places that we’ve been.
[MF] I think it’s about connecting people through their experiences and through discovery. When we had a restaurant it’s what we did through the food and drink so to me it seems natural to do that through retail as well.
[GP] So the site here is going to combine food and retail. But we are going to get rid of the Balenciaga and the Gucci handbags - and the retail will be products that we make, products that we bring in. It’s a deli with incredible to-go food during the day, some tables in the evening and then we’re developing homeware products too… from around the world. We both have an affinity for the New York bodega, we both spent a lot of time in New York; it’s about community, your local neighbourhood.
[MF] And a bodega is at the centre of the community in much the same way a restaurant of a café is. They are usually Latin-owned, but they’re tailored to the neighbourhood that they’re in; stocking things that are appropriate. So it’s essentially providing a centralised service to the neighbourhood and obviously, King’s Cross is a highly developed neighbourhood in the centre of London, but what’s really appealing about it is that it’s been designed to be a community; for people to use this area, the fountains, the pool, and I don’t want to be naïve, but I think there’s a genuine good intention at the heart of this development.
[MT] So the new Rita’s, it’s a deli, not a restaurant?
[GP] It’s not a restaurant at all, it’s going to have maybe five tables in the evening, and a counter during the day.
[MT] Who makes the products?
[GP] Everything Rita’s will be made by us, and hopefully we can make everything on site.
[MT] And what about the homeware products?
[MF] We’ve got some stuff from Mexico, which is always a sensitive subject, as we don’t want to be those people buying things cheap and selling them, and also because of the carbon footprint, so we’re speaking with producers here in London. We’ll sell global things that we find useful, as well as collaborative products with existing food brands.
[GP] It’s about trying to get the things that we want from the places we travel to, not by ripping them off by buying something for nothing and selling it for loads and then creating a massive carbon footprint, but we also don’t want to rip them off by just copying their ideas and doing it ourselves. It’s about working with people collaboratively, to take influence from those things to create products that work for this site, for this area, producing products from this place and in this environment for the people around here.
[MF] And it will definitely reflect our experiences - so the idea is that we go somewhere and we pick up an idea, or we see something great and we reinterpret it.
[GP] We want to do a beautiful molacajete, like a beautiful pestle and mortar, and we want to make a really beautiful incense holder, candles, stuff that is nice to have in your house.
[MF] I’ve just been working with a ceramicist to make little mescal cups.
[GP] I want to make towels, and tablecloths, and dish cloths…
[MT] Tell me about the space…
[MF] one of the things we’re conscious of is that because the space is small, it has to be special.
[GP] It has to be ergonomic.
[MF] We’re kind of going for the corner shop at the end of a dusty road between America and Mexico, we don’t want it to feel sterile, we‘re not trying to do a modern juice bar fit-out, it’s got to feel lived in, but this space has so much history that we can try to tap into the natural features of the exteriors and bring this earthy feel to it.
[GP] Have you seen Georgia O’Keeffe’s kitchen?
[MF] That kind of stone, basic, utensils on the wall, not many of them.
[MT] What’s to come?
[GP] An online store, and then we want to offer local delivery to local residents and businesses in the area.